Monday, August 22, 2005

Read the General Theory Online

Some students, especially those in Taiwan, feel that the General Theory is a wonderful book, but perhaps not worth the cost of buying a bound copy. Naturally, I disagree with this, since a book can be taken anywhere and is always ready to yield its secrets, even without batteries.

Nevertheless, students may find the online version of Keynes' General Theory more to their liking. They can get this online resource at the following address:

http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/
k/keynes/john_maynard/k44g/

One very positive aspect of this is that any particular passage of the GT can be printed out and worked at one's leisure. Another plus is that reading the General Theory online lets one instantly check definitions and references on the Internet. For example, Keynes often uses Latin expressions such as parri passu (see Chapter 10) and mutatis mutandis (see Chapter 20). Even when Keynes is not using Latin, his use of such terms as "prime cost" and "supplementary cost" (see Chapter 6) leave us uneasy with our understanding of what he is saying.

Additionally, you will find that this site above also includes the introductions Keynes wrote to the German, Japanese, and French editions of the General Theory. The French introduction is particularly revealing.

Of course, there is always the occasional teacher that will tell you that the General Theory has become a classic -- meaning that everyone knows about it, but no one reads it anymore. Which reminds me of something Donald Patinkin once said at a well-attended seminar at Texas A&M University. I was a graduate student at the time. Patinkin said that he was well aware that we had all read Marshall's Principles, so he didn't need to spend any time discussing background material. I turned somewhat red and realized that probably five people in the audience of one hundred economists and grad students had really read Marshall. Patinkin had just assumed we were as devoted to the classics as his colleages and students at Chicago. Later on, I realized the true importance of what he had said. Classics really do need to be read by people who typically go around dropping names like Keynes, Marshall, Samuelson, and Friedman in their economics lectures.

4 Comments:

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